Thursday, March 17, 2011

option 1

Ae-Ree Choi

Borges’ Circular Ruins and A Survey of Works of Herbert Quain have many

similarities, especially in terms of Gnosticism, importance of knowledge and fantasy.

In fact, Borges clearly states that he based his fiction, Circular Ruins, on Herbert

Quain’s The Rose of Yesterday, which supports a strong bond between two stories.

First of all, both stories reveal Borges’ particular interest in Gnosticism. The

basic principle of Gnosticism is that knowledge is good, and there is not one God, but

two Gods, one good and one evil. Furthermore, Borges focuses on the importance of

knowledge and reveals it throughout the two stories. When Borges mentions

dimurge in both stories and says, “while the gods and demiurges had chosen an

infinite one” (Borges 110), and “in the Cosmogonies of the Gnostics, the demiurges

knead up a red Adam who cannot manage to stand” (Borges 99). Dimurge is one of

the Gods that exists in belief of Gnosticism. However, the importance is that this

term is only adapted by the Gnostics and it opposes monotheistic idea of

Christianity; it rather presents polytheistic view. Therefore, incorporating in the

story reveals that Borges was especially interested in Gnosticism.

Secondly, both stories focus on the importance of knowledge. When Borges

talks about Quain’s work, he says, “he [Quain] saw with absolute clarity the

experimental nature of his works, which might be admirable for their

innovativeness and a certain laconic integrity, but hardly for their strength of

passion” (Borges 107). Quain’s work is valued not because of his passion for his

writing, but for his imagination; this can also relate to the idea of knowledge,

because imagination is something that is created based on one’s experiences and

one’s knowledge. This bond between imagination and knowledge, then, can also tie

into one of the ideas of Gnosticism that unreality is valued over reality. In Circular

Ruins, the wizard dreams about this boy and he “perceived it with greater clarity,

greater certainty. He did not touch it; he only witnessed it, observed it… she lived it,

from many angles, many distances” (98). Very detailed description of sorcerer

dreaming and creating unreality within his reality emphasizes the importance of

creation based on one’s knowledge. In addition, Quain’s statement that among

many kinds of pleasure literature can minister, the highest is the pleasure of the

imagination, which shows that through imagining, one can experience a true

meaning of pleasure, and even that pleasure and the imagination itself can turn into

one’s knowledge in a future.

Lastly, stories also focus on the idea of fantasy. Borges states that the best

story is not the one that Quain first wrote; rather, it is a tale of fantasy (110.) Borges

and Quain both value fantasies because they are totally based on one’s imagination,

becoming one’s own unique understanding. The story of Circular Ruins is a

completely fantasized story that includes a sorcerer, dreams and creation. The boy

who is created through the sorcerer’s dream is already considered superior because

he is in desire and being dreamed and the unreality is valued over the things that

already exist in life. Borges states that Quain’s best story was a tale of fantasy and by

using one of Quain’s stories and turning it into his fantasy story shows that Borges

also created one of his best stories through combination of his knowledge and

Quain’s knowledge about fiction.


  1. This begins as, but also remains, as a solid comparison between the two stories. I intend this, I guess, both as praise and criticism. You touch on most of the important points of connection between the two, but you in terms of argument, it's very limited. How does understanding the connection between the two stories better help us understand either one, or Borges' work as a whole? I think you show some insight when you connect both stories specifically in terms of their Gnostic content (althout some of the details of that discussion are a little weak); I also think bringing them together as a way of understanding Borges' ideas about imagination is a good, legitimate strategy.

    Although the comparison is solid, though, and although I see considerable merit in both your discussion of gnosticism and your discussion of imagination, though, you didn't pick and focus upon a single topic - this includes a set of ideas for an essay, but it never quite becomes a functioning essay. If you revise it, you want to tighten your focus, with the likely candidates being understading Borges on imagination or on gnosticism better.

  2. I liked your explanation a Gnostics and how it relates to the imagination, but one thing I did not understand was the explanation of the Dimurges? I had originally thought that it was a blanket term for a group of individuals/Gods(?). However the way that particular sentence reads is a bit confusing and lead me to believe that you are talking about a specific character within the story.

    Also, I think it would be a good idea to add some additional examples from "Circular Ruins" relating Quain's opinions of knowledge & the imagination. The scene where he is teaching his pupils would work.

    Overall, I think that your essay was good. I enjoyed reading it & it shed some light on concepts/ideas I had not considered.